How post-arrival testing will be conducted at Hilo airport

  • AKIONA

Trans-Pacific travelers to Hilo should expect a relatively smooth arrival as the county implements post-flight COVID-19 tests at Hilo International Airport.

The tests, which were announced Tuesday and go into effect today, are part of the county’s additional COVID safety measures that operate in tandem with new policies that go into effect statewide.

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Under these policies, trans-Pacific travelers can forgo an otherwise mandatory two-week quarantine by submitting negative COVID-19 test results from tests taken before and after arriving on the Big Island.

Dr. Ka‘ohimanu Dang Akiona, Hawaii County medical director for Premier Medical Group, which is operating testing sites at all three airports on the island, said the process is still a learning experience, but is expected to run smoothly at Hilo International, where flights initially are expected to have only a handful of passengers.

The operation is set up in the primary terminal of the airport, and should be unmissable for all arriving passengers. Akiona said the process is set up so travelers will have to interact with Premier or county workers as little as possible.

Upon arrival, a traveler will be guided to the terminal, where they will queue for an antigen test that provides results within 15-25 minutes, Akiona said.

In the queue, travelers will have to register and provide basic information — name, date of birth and a phone number and email address — before being moved through the testing area.

While waiting for test results, travelers will wait in a sitting area where furniture has been arranged to maintain social distancing, Akiona said.

Should a traveler test positive, they will be taken to another part of the airport for a second test — a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR test, which takes longer to produce results. Otherwise, travelers with negative test results are free to leave after receiving the results via email.

Travelers also will have access to kiosks to scan in data from the Safe Travels Hawaii application or fill out the Safe Travels form, if they haven’t already. Workers also will be on hand to assist travelers who don’t have cellphones or email addresses.

While Akiona said the process likely will have some hiccups as travelers and testers adapt to the circumstances, she thinks it will be fairly straightforward in the smaller, more contained Hilo airport. At Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport — where Akiona said 900 passengers could arrive today — the system will be more sorely tested.

Consequently, there will be at least 18 Premier staff working in Kona, compared to five or six in Hilo, Akiona said, and another six on standby to send where necessary.

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“We’ve got to train people to work on a half-built ship,” Akiona said. “So it’s not going to be easy.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.